LOVELAND — Bradley Carnes-Clabey might want to consider adding another hyphenated word to his name: Clutch.
The Crowley County senior came up big in a 48-41 win for the top-seeded Chargers (24-0) over No. 8 Sanford on Thursday at the Budweiser Events Center. Carnes-Clabey finished with a game-best 20 points and had five blocked shots — three in the first half and one crucial denial in the final minutes — to lead the way in the Class 2A boys basketball quarterfinal game.
His performance was a memorable one, and something he’d been looking forward to since long before he grew into the 6-foot-4 Charger he is now.
“I’ve been dreaming about coming and playing at state since I was like an eighth grader,” Carnes-Clabey said. “All season we’ve been preaching to each other and from our coach to just hustle and play defense. Getting those blocked shots is part of my defensive game plan, just protecting the paint. Coming out I just wanted to work hard for my teammates and that’s what I did.”
Though a matchup of an unbeaten No. 1 seed and a No. 8 seed is, at least on paper, lopsided, the game was anything but. Sanford, a tradition-rich program with eight state titles to its name, refused to go away and went on a 6-0 run to end the half trailing by only three points.
The Chargers zoomed out to an 8-0 run of their own to open the third quarter and build their biggest lead of the night at 30-19, only to see that lead dwindle and fizzle in the third quarter when a steal-and-score from Sanford senior Zach Sittler tied it up at 34.
“We knew it was going to be a dog fight going into it, (Sanford) has been here for I don’t know how many years in a row,” Crowley coach Brett Rusler said. “(At halftime) I just told the guys, ‘That’s not us.’ We needed to play like we knew how, and they responded well.”
Chris Meyer broke the tie with a steal-and-score of his own, and Carnes-Clabey’s late fourth quarter block and ensuing layup ultimately put the game out of reach at 42-34 with 3:21 to play.
Now Crowley County, which hasn’t won a state title since 1968 and is making its first tournament appearance since 1994, is in the state semifinals with an entire Arkansas Valley community behind it.
“That community, they always have our back no matter what,” Carnes-Clabey said. “Just seeing the looks in everybody’s eyes...I just love my community and I’m happy to be able to represent them.”
(2) Yuma 62, (7) Ellicott 28
Yuma took care of business Thursday thanks in large part to the efforts of juniors Victor Mendoza (16 points) and Jake Chrisman (15 points). The two scored all of Yuma’s 14 points in the third quarter to propel their team into the semis.
(3) Byers 65, (6) Ignacio 44
A 25-point first quarter and a 26-point effort from senior Austin Davis were the key cogs in a quarterfinal victory for the Byers Bulldogs. They’ll now take on No. 2 Yuma in the semis at 8:30 p.m. on Friday.
(4) Highland vs. (5) Meeker
The Cowboys shot 54 percent from the field in the first half while simultaneously stifling the Highland offense, riding a hot start to secure a 74-59 win and a trip to the semifinals.
Highland sophomore Tate Bessire put forth a 30-point effort, scoring 19 in the second half, but Meeker survived as the only lower-seeded team to win a quarterfinal game.
The Cowboys face No. 1 Crowley County Friday at 5:30 p.m.